TradeLens: the promise of full traceability on a single platform supported by blockchain

TradeLens, the digital logistics platform based on blockchain technology, has landed in the market with the ambition to become the medium that brings together global logistics activity and thus achieve the objective of absolute traceability. Despite not being the only one, it has some advantages over the others: the exchange of events is not limited to ports but its scope goes further to unify logistics events and geographies in a single interface.

Posted on 07.22.2021
TradeLens uses the IBM Blockchain platform that offers immutability, privacy and traceability of shipping documents. (PierNext / GettyImages)

Logistics and global trade continue to seek solutions that guarantee more efficient and safe container traffic. TradeLens, the technological platform developed by IBM and Maersk launched in 2018, joins the existing offer with a factor that makes it unique: it relies on the blockchain to offer greater transparency, traceability and security in the exchange of events and shipping documents in real time. 

"TradeLens enables true information exchange and collaboration across supply chains, thereby increasing industry innovation, reducing trade frictions and ultimately promoting more global trade," explains Olga Blanco, Head of Blockchain at IBM Spain.

The added value of Blockchain technology

One feature that sets TradeLens apart is the use of the blockchain. It uses the IBM Blockchain platform, which is based on Hyperledger Fabric, an authoritative open source blockchain, to offer immutability, privacy and traceability of shipping documents.

“Its value arises from the members of the ecosystem who share information on the platform. Blockchain is the technology that secures that data and makes trustful collaboration possible,” Blanco sums up.

As reported from IBM, unlike open and anonymous blockchains, such as those used for cryptocurrencies, in the TradeLens blockchain, the members are "trust anchors" and know each other on the network on the basis of cryptographic identities.

At the heart of the platform is a sophisticated permission-based system that allows parties to view, edit, and use data. Its strict and highly secure permission structure ensures that only the necessary parties can view the specific information related to a shipment.

Towards full traceability

TradeLens is displayed on an interface visualized from the computer, where each user has access to certain information according to their role: freight forwarder, consignee, intermodal operator, government authority or terminal, for example.

“In our case, we can view all the loads, unloadings or transshipments that occur in Barcelona, which greatly expands the traceability of the route carried out by the container in question. The biggest benefit is that this information is available more than a month in advance. Previously, it was not available until 3 or 4 days before, when it was processed by Customs,” shares Jaume Bagot, head of Sector Process Improvement at the Port of Barcelona.

Currently, the TradeLens ecosystem is made up of more than 300 organizations, more than 10 maritime carriers, and encompasses data from more than 600 ports and terminals. And the numbers keep increasing

TradeLens and the Port of Barcelona

The Port of Barcelona joined TradeLens in May 2021 when PORTIC, the Port Community System of the Port Community of Barcelona, was integrated into the platform. “At the end of 2020 they contacted us with a specific request through Maersk in which they asked us to forward information about the shipping company and publish it on TradeLens. This was the beginning of this integration,” recalls Javier Gallardo, director of PORTIC.

PORTIC, in exchange for publishing the TradeLens events that take place in Barcelona, gets access to those that take place outside, since at the moment in which a consignment 

TradeLens also lands in China

The China Unicom Digital Tech company has partnered with the TradeLens technology platform for its official commercialization in China, as Maersk recently announced. The Asian company will host and operate the platform in China and make it available to exporters and importers in the country. With this partnership, the shipping company connects the second largest economy in the world to the platform and, according to the Danish firm, improves the network coverage of global services.

Maersk estimates that one in three export containers originates from China, and one in six import containers originates from China.

The CEO of AP Möller Maersk in China, Caroline Wu, highlights that TradeLens “will provide new tools to facilitate industry innovation and help our clients accelerate their digital agendas. They need enhanced visibility to drive efficiency and resilience and they need digital solutions that help reduce the disruptions created by the pandemic."

The future of the platform is to continue incorporating all the agents until the global network is fully mapped out. (IBM)

China Unicom Digital Tech Vice President Haifeng Chen says that by joining forces with TradeLens they optimize their strength in cyber, data and transaction security. "Taking advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain and other technologies, the standardization, visibility and intelligence of logistics services will be achieved, helping to build a connected, reliable and highly efficient logistics network," he explains.

Also, the vice president of Industrial Business Development of IBM China, Xin Li, stressed that the growing interest in TradeLens from Chinese companies "is a strong indication of how the increasing complexity in the container shipping industry requires the use of advanced technologies to promote greater efficiency in a highly dynamic market.”

The sucess of TradeLens 

For Javier Gallardo, the success of TradeLens lies in the fact that other large shipping companies such as CMA CGM and MSC join the system. "At first it was difficult to think that [these shipping companies] would bet on a system powered by Maersk, but there is a great demand for information on the location of containers and the need to standardize and harmonize data and processes," he reflects.

Olga Blanco expresses a similar idea, since she ensures that the future of the platform is to continue to incorporate all the agents until the global network is fully mapped. "This will give the chain a lot of efficiency and a lot of confidence for the consumer, who will be able to know with complete certainty where the product they purchase comes from and where it has passed through and will make their purchasing decisions in an informed way."

 The future will tell if TradeLens can bring together the entire global supply chain. To date, the platform has tracked more than 2.3 billion events, published 21 million documents and processed more than 43.6 million containers on the 6 continents.